NDP calls on RCMP to investigate budget leak for possible market manipulation

OTTAWA – The RCMP should investigate last week’s federal budget leak about tariff reductions because it could have allowed insiders to manipulate markets, the Opposition New Democrats charged Monday.

NDP deputy finance critic Guy Caron has written RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson about “potentially criminal actions related to a breach of budget secrecy.”

The National Post, followed by the Globe and Mail, both reported on the eve of last Thursday’s budget delivery that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty would cut tariffs on hockey gear and some baby clothing.

“The leak and the availability of this information, prior to it being made public in the budget, gave those with this information an opportunity for personal financial gain,” Caron wrote in his letter.

Tariffs on a small range of sports equipment and other goods will be eliminated “on or after” April 1, according to the budget made public at 4 p.m. last Thursday.

The newspaper scoops were widely interpreted as tactical leaks by the Harper government to prime the media machine — and television reports on budget day were indeed filled with images of kids in hockey gear.

Only later did it become clear that the Conservatives had also increased tariffs on a much wider array of goods, more than offsetting any tariff cuts to a few popular items.

Caron couldn’t quantify any financial edge the pre-budget tariff disclosure might have offered a would-be investor, but he said that’s beside the point.

“What you have to look at is that it changes the behaviour of companies in those industries, that’s for sure,” Caron said in an interview.

“It’s a no-no. That’s why we treat all information from the budget as confidential.”

The Conservative government has a reputation for aggressively pursuing leaks, but the pre-budget disclosure didn’t elicit public comment from Flaherty or his officials until the NDP publicized its letter to the RCMP.

“We take budget secrecy very seriously and actively seek to prevent disclosure of budget measures before (their) official release,” Dan Miles, Flaherty’s director of communications, said in an email.

“We will let the RCMP respond to this request.”

A spokesman for the national police force said they had not yet received the NDP referral, although the party said it was sent by fax Monday morning.

Budget leaks were once taken very seriously, Caron noted in his RCMP referral, citing the leak under the Mulroney Conservatives in 1989 that led to the resignation of the finance minister and an RCMP investigation.

But he could have pointed to much more current examples of police delving into government leaks.

Just last November, the government asked the Mounties to investigate the leak of an internal memo that warned of a lack of security at Canada’s embassy in Moscow.

In 2010 the government called in the RCMP to investigate a politically embarrassing story involving the decision to sole-source the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter.

Mounties spent five months looking into the alleged leak of cabinet documents, although internal emails obtained by The Canadian Press revealed investigators were at a loss to understand what laws might have been breached.

And in 2007 the RCMP marched an Environment Canada worker out of his office in handcuffs after someone sent a copy of the Conservative climate change plan to some media outlets a week in advance.

“I don’t think that there’s any suggestion that this was involving a whistleblower, if someone on an unauthorized basis leaked some sensitive information anonymously,” John Baird, then environment minister, said at the time.

The NDP letter also neglected to mention one of the most politically fraught police investigations of a leak in recent memory.

After the Liberal government announced in November 2005 that it would not tax income trusts, New Democrats urged the Mounties to investigate reports of investors cashing in on insider knowledge.

The RCMP subsequently announced in the middle of the 2006 federal election campaign that Liberals — and then-finance minister Ralph Goodale — were under investigation, a bombshell that some credit with pushing the surging Conservatives into government.

A single bureaucrat in the finance department was eventually charged, pleaded guilty to breach of trust and paid a fine of $14,000, twice the profit from his insider trading.